Croatia’s accession to EU threatened by fishing row

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The European Union issued a last-minute warning to Croatia yesterday over its imminent implementation of a protected Adriatic fishing zone, saying it could put a spoke in Zagreb’s EU aspirations. The Croatian parliament has proclaimed a protected fishing and ecological zone covering an area of some 57,000 square kilometers (22,800 square miles), which is due to come into effect on January 1. Its goal is to protect Adriatic Sea fishing stocks which Croatia says are being depleted by Italy’s larger fishing fleet. ‘Negative’ European Union Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in a statement that refusing to open up the fisheries and ecological zone to all member states would lead to «negative» consequences. «We trust that Croatia will act accordingly and not apply any aspect of the ecological and fisheries zone to EU member states as of January 1, 2008,» said Rehn. «It is essential that a solution be found to this issue immediately once a new government has been formed in Croatia, in order to avoid negative consequences for the country’s EU accession process,» he said. Decisive phase «Accession negotiations with Croatia are expected to enter a decisive phase in 2008, provided this issue is successfully resolved and that a positive momentum on EU-related reforms and benchmarks is maintained.» The situation is even more delicate as the January 1 deadline fast approaches while the country is in the process of forming a new government after November 25 elections. Prime Minister-designate Ivo Sanader has yet to discuss the issue with his main coalition partner, the Peasants’ Party, which strongly advocates the enforcement of the zone. Net losses Italy’s annual catch is some 200,000 tons compared with Croatia’s 20,000 tons and Slovenia’s 2,000, according to Croatian figures which put the cost to Zagreb of the Italian fishing alone at up to 300 million euros (430 million dollars) each year. Striving for EU candidacy in 2004, Croatia agreed to allow exemptions for EU countries – notably its neighbors Italy and Slovenia – until a fishing accord is finalized with Brussels. Meanwhile, Rome and Ljubljana proclaimed ecological zones themselves, while Zagreb decided to activate its own on January 1, 2008. Croatia hopes to join the EU by 2010.